By Paul Bremmer
It seemed like such a good idea at the time. When Hugo Chavez came to power in Venezuela in 1999, he wanted to make the Venezuelan people more equal. But the late president’s socialist policies ended up turning a modern, fairly wealthy country into a Third World wreck.
Today the country is broke, with a near-worthless currency. Severe shortages have forced the government to ration food and electricity. The average Venezuelan has lost 19 pounds over the past year due to starvation. Things have gotten so bad that some starving Venezuelans have stolen and eaten zoo animals. Angry residents have rioted in the streets against the hapless government of President Nicolas Maduro.
In the end, Chavez achieved his goal of making the people “equal,” noted William J. Murray, chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition.
“Now they’re all equal – they are miserably poor and starving to death!” Murray quipped during a recent interview on The Hagmann Report.
Murray pointed out Venezuela has stumbled to the brink of collapse despite having the world’s largest-known oil reserves. By contrast, Saudi Arabia, the country with the world’s second-largest oil reserves, is awash in oil wealth, enjoying its status as a regional power with a G-20 economy.
According to Murray, Venezuelan leaders Chavez and Maduro subscribed to the same utopian thought that rulers throughout history have latched onto. It’s a topic he explored in his book “Utopian Road to Hell: Enslaving America and the World with Central Planning.” In fact, Murray said the ancient philosopher Plato was the first to express this utopian idealism when he suggested a small group of well-educated elites should make societal decisions for everyone.
“This concept over and over and over again has appeared in history,” Murray noted. “Every time it has appeared, every time it has been tried, it has been an absolute disaster. People do not, in the long run, want to cooperate with it. They don’t want their belongings taken. They don’t want to be forced into certain jobs or certain education, and when they don’t, inevitably this wonderful utopian idea has to be turned into an instrument of force in order to force people to go along with a small group of intellectuals who are guiding it.”
Part of the reason utopian collectivism always fails, according to Murray, is that it goes against human nature. The Marxist mantra is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” However, human beings typically want far more than they need.
“Notice I didn’t say ‘want’ and Marx didn’t say ‘want’ and utopians don’t say ‘want’; it’s according to your ‘need,’” Murray clarified. “It’s sort of like Obamacare: ‘We’re going to prescribe to you the medical treatment and medical insurance that you need. It might not necessarily be what you want, it might not be what you can pay for, but it’s what we believe that you need.’ It’s that whole giant pot theory, that everybody works hard, puts everything they can in the pot for the good of the collective society, but people only take out what they need. Unfortunately, somebody forgot to tell two-year-old children about this, and they grab as much as they can.”
Utopianism has manifested itself in many forms, according to Murray. People often look at Hitler and Stalin as opposites – the right-wing fascist dictator versus the left-wing communist dictator. However, in reality, they were two sides of the same coin.
“They were exactly the same thing,” Murray insisted. “They both envisioned a small group of people coming together being able to establish a utopian society for their people and ultimately the whole world. The only difference between the radical communism of the Soviet Union and Josef Stalin and the National Socialism of Adolf Hitler was the means to get there and what you called it.”
Murray pointed out Hitler seized 50 percent of the means of production upon gaining power; Stalin and the Soviet Communists seized all of it. Also, Hitler stole from the Jews he dispossessed in order to finance the construction of his glorious, utopian Third Reich; the Soviets likewise confiscated wealth from the gentry. Hitler killed 11 million people; Stalin and V.I. Lenin killed 20 to 30 million people, in Murray’s estimate.
“So it isn’t two different things, and we can give all these different names, and we can give the social utopians in the United States and in the western world a different name too, but in actuality they are one thing,” Murray said. “They’re people who believe that they’re so smart, that they have such great wisdom, that they can create a village, Hillary Clinton-style, that they can create the village, a small group of highly trained and wonderful intellectuals and intelligent people that can create a society that benefits all.”
The utopian temptation even reared its head during America’s colonial period. Upon reaching the shores of New England, the Pilgrims established a collectivist society.
“There was no private ownership and everything was common property, and everybody worked in the field as hard as they could and they brought in whatever they could and they put it in a big communal pot, and then they were supposed to take out only what they needed, and the result was starvation – they almost starved to death,” Murray explained. “Fortunately, after the first year, the governor intervened, declared private property; people worked their own little plot of land, and of course the colony immediately became successful.”
Nevertheless, Murray said the United States has been on the utopian road to hell for a long time. Progress toward the utopian goal has been slow, and some presidents and Congresses have halted the momentum, but utopians have kept chugging along. In Murray’s view, Woodrow Wilson did more than any American leader to advance the utopian ideal.
But it’s not just politicians who have been tempted by utopianism.
“What’s really dangerous about it, I think, today is now we have a billionaire class that we never had before that has really gotten together and decided that they can be that small group [that can decide for everybody],” Murray said.
Perhaps the idea that there exists a privileged class of deciders has led Americans of all races and political persuasions into a sense of despair. Murray believes the root cause of the white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend was ultimately the same as the cause of the violent black protests which rocked Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and Baltimore in 2015.
“The blacks of Ferguson, the blacks of Baltimore … rioted because they felt like they were being repressed and that somebody was being given an advantage over them,” Murray postulated. “What happened in Charlottesville was identical. The riot there was by a group of individuals who felt underprivileged and targeted and felt like things had been taken away from them, and they were not being treated equally.”
Murray said the nation’s D.C. elite are much wealthier than most Americans, so it’s easy for them to forget plenty of Americans – even white men – are denied jobs because of race, gender or education level. Murray acknowledged there is a firm basis for white men’s grievances: affirmative action has led to the hiring of more female and minority job candidates at the expense of white men.
“That is part of the cultural utopianism, the cultural Marxism, where people are not allowed to compete based on their abilities, that all kinds of other markers are thrown in there in order to make it a more just society,” Murray explained.
“Now believe me, I believe that there has been repression in the African American community. I believe in the ghettoes there’s very poor opportunity to advance and be educated and that additional opportunities might have to be offered, but what I’m explaining is the perspective of those that congregated in Charlottesville. Their perspective is they’re being treated and repressed in exactly the same manner as the blacks of the Baltimore ghetto.”
Even when certain opportunities are available in a utopian society, other important opportunities may not be. Murray said on one of his recent trips to Cuba, he had three tour guides: two of them were attorneys and the third was an aviation engineer. But tour guide was the best job any of them could get.
“Virtually everybody in Cuba has a college education, but the problem is there are simply no jobs for what they’re educated for,” Murray explained. “In Cuba there was universal education through college, so everybody has some kind of a degree, and the only good-paying jobs there now are in tourism, so the people that are very, very well educated are gravitating back toward tourism rather than being a lawyer or an aviation engineer or something of that nature.
“The situation in Cuba after decades and decades and decades of this utopian dream is just incredibly bad.”
Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the socialist regime has fallen prey to the same temptation as the former Soviet Union: price controls. Murray, who founded the first commercial Bible publishing company in the Soviet Union, spent time in the USSR in the late 1980s and early 1990s and observed that it was not Ronald Reagan who defeated the Evil Empire. Rather, the Soviet Union went bankrupt from trying to provide goods to the people for less than those goods cost to produce.
The utopian USSR wanted to keep prices low for the people, and Venezuela is now doing the same thing, according to Murray. But food producers are unable to produce enough to satisfy the demand for cheap food at artificially low prices, and chronic shortages have resulted.
“You cannot sell a product for less than it costs to make even if you are a government,” Murray emphasized. “You can’t do it, but in order to create this mindset of utopianism you have to have these set prices and pretend that you can keep these prices lower, even when doing that causes the goods and services not to be available at all, and that has caused a death spiral in Venezuela…. What literally was like a little Switzerland in South America has turned into one of the worst economic basket cases to the point that they’re selling their oil futures to the Chinese for pennies on the dollar to get some cash.”
Murray does not see much of a future for what he termed the “utopian dream world” of Venezuela.
“It is a very difficult situation,” he said gravely. “The country unfortunately just can’t flip over and die and go bankrupt because of the tremendous amount of oil that it has, so the people are going to suffer probably through a civil war, is more than likely what is going to happen next.”
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